Home & Garden

Unassuming duplex held treasure trove of Kentucky art, mid-century modern furniture

Walter Malmer was an architect and builder who constructed hundreds of Central Kentucky homes, but his own house on Cliffside Drive in Frankfort was a small, simple duplex.

The exterior belied a marvelous secret, though, said his daughter, Tory Malmer.

Malmer had, over the years, accumulated an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures and other works by some of the region’s best-known artists, and even the mid-century modern furniture he bought decades earlier had become collectible.

“Every wall was just covered in art,” said his youngest daughter, Tory Malmer, of West Palm Beach, Fla. “His talent seemed to be using his architect’s eye to arrange pictures in a beautiful way.”

Malmer died last spring at 84 years old, and much of his collection will be sold at auction this weekend.

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Walter Malmer Photo submitted

The auction, hosted by Main Auction Galleries in Cincinnati, features a number of mid-century modern furniture items from Malmer’s home, supplemented by other mid-century pieces held by the auction house.

Art being sold includes a portrait by Henry Faulkner titled “Cassandra Smith,” as well as works by other noted Kentucky artists including John Tuska and Robert James Foose.

Malmer frequented regional art shows, such as the St. James Court Art Show in Louisville, and even planned vacations around gallery visits, his daughter said.

Sculptures, woodcarvings, photographs, and other media are part of the collection to be auctioned, though Malmer appeared to have a particular affinity for watercolor landscapes.

“He loved art that reminded him of home, I think, and he thought of Kentucky as home,” Tory Malmer said.

Malmer was born in Ohio but spent most of his adult life in Frankfort. He loved entertaining and was known for his colorful fashion choices, his daughter said.

“As much as he loved art, he especially loved sharing it: Taking friends and family to art shows; Sharing stories of how he acquired a piece. He loved bringing artists together with friends at cocktail parties and dinners,” she said in an email.

As for the furniture, Tory Malmer said her parents traveled to Cincinnati, Chicago and elsewhere to make purchases back when mid-century modern was simply the style of the day.

“It was just furniture back then,” she said.

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Malmer family Photo submitted

Tory Malmer said her father downsized to the duplex after he and her mother divorced, but he managed to fill it with “a shocking amount of furniture.”

“He had mid-century modern out on the porch,” she said.

After his death, she said she and her two siblings took turns choosing pieces of the art collection that were special to them.

The rest is to be auctioned at 10 a.m. Sunday. Ross Van Pelt, a representative of Main Auction Galleries, said nearly 600 people have registered online as bidders.

“It’s doing really well,” he said.